I wonder... how many times have I read the "best fantasy debut of 2011" already?
Songs of the Earth: there's one. Count Prince of Thorns: and another. And The Unremembered... oh, The Unremembered.
So three. Three, and it's only May - though of those three, I fear I could only stand to read the first two in full. I dare say if I'd completed it, The Unremembered would have been this year's The Left Hand of God, and Peter seems such a genuine fellow; I opted to spare him that, and you.
But I'm getting off topic.
What I mean to say is this: the term, the descriptor aforementioned, "the best fantasy debut" of this year or that, seems to be treated so lightly these days... so lightly that whatsoever meaning it might have had to me, it's long since lost. I won't be seen to espouse such an approach here on The Speculative Scotsman. But of all those new genre novelists I've read since beginning the blog, among the most impressive - near-as-dammit at the fore of a field of sterling contenders - we have Daniel Abraham, may he live long, and prosper.
You've yet to see my reviews of The Long Price quartet; some day soon I expect you will. Nor have I offered opinions on either of Abraham's newer novels as yet, and there's been something of an influx of those, with the recent release of both The Dragon's Path, which is to say the first book of The Dragon and The Coin, and Leviathan Wakes - an SF collaboration with the author Ty Franks. I'll get back to you with the word on each in due course, but I expect that yes, they'll be awesome, each it their own way. Because the man's a bloody marvel. Seems like everything he touches turns to treasure.
Still, you can colour me surprised he's managed to make of his pseudonymous sideline in urban fantasy - that most despised genre of all - something even passing presentable, far less the excellent, edgy entertainment "Hurt Me" represents.
"Hurt Me" was my first taste of MLN Hanover, and though it goes against practically everything I hold dear - God forbid I get caught reading paranormal romance, right? - I think I'll be going back for a second helping... and a third... and so on and so forth till I'm stuffed quite to the gunnels.
"Hurt Me" begins with a house. A decrepit old house, fallen into disrepair, and haunted, so the story goes, by a vengeful spirit: facts or fictions, perhaps, which our first narrator - a nervous Realtor - does his level best to gloss over when showing the property. But Connie Morales sees through his showmanship, his sleight-of-hand and eye. She seems well aware of all the problems associated with 1532 Lachmont Drive, all the things the Realtor hopes to hide from her... yet she signs on the dotted line anyway.
Deal done, Connie moves in, and from here on out the narration of "Hurt Me" alternates between passages told from her counter-intuitively calm and collected perspective and more animated sequences in the company of Connie's new next-door neighbours, who gossip and taunt and warn - as all good neighbours should.
I tend to think these latter scenes exist largely to make "Hurt Me" a livelier and more immediately accessible tale, for Connie can be an unsettling protagonist at the best of times. Formerly a victim of domestic abuse, she obviously knows substantially more about what's going on here than we, yet her behaviour rebuffs explanation at every turn but for the very last. One wonders if she's not some sort of ghost hunter, because clearly she's aware a spirit which means her harm shares 1532 Lachmont Drive with her, yet the closest Connie comes to bona fide fear is when she spills her glass of wine. And even that seems part of the plan...
It all comes clear in the end, of course, and I won't be spoiling that for you here. Suffice it for me to say that if the explanation isn't quite fit to floor those readers who enter every story expecting the unexpected - guilty as charged - then certainly the particulars of the perverse relationship between the haunted and the haunting are apt to catch one off-guard.
I don't usually read the likes of "Hurt Me," but paging through my copy of Songs of Love and Death on the lookout for the new Neil Gaiman I'd heard so very little about, I came across Hanover's name and the penny promptly dropped. I'm such a fan of Daniel Abraham's other work, I simply had to know. Call it morbid curiosity if you like, but I'll tell you this: curiosity did not kill this cat.
"Hurt Me" is a smart and knowing story, taut with tension and as riddled with mystery as a rotten body is bacteria, written by an author who seems in complete control of language and character and narrative - that holy trinity of tale-telling in any and every genre. More fool me, really, for thinking that remarkable talent wouldn't translate across the thin blue line that holds high fantasy apart from paranormal romance, simply because I'm so often disdainful of that latter.
Well... consider my presumptions thus scuttled, going forward.
You can find "Hurt Me" in the pages of Songs of Love and Death, an anthology of original short fiction edited by the gruesome twosome of George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, and published late last year by Gallery Press in the United States.